Communique 25-26 May 2021

The tenth Crab Working Group meeting was held in Brisbane. The purpose of the meeting was to note the update of changes to the mud and blue swimmer crab fisheries, including new reporting and quota requirements and proposed total allowable commercial catch (TACC), and to discuss Wildlife Trade Operation (WTO) approvals.

Fisheries Queensland provided a general update on:

  • the Sustainable Fisheries Strategy (the Strategy)

  • recent regulation changes

  • development of 13 harvest strategies in Queensland fisheries

  • the new commercial fishing app for electronic reporting

Industry members provided an update on fishing operations in their local areas. Commercial operators commented that a large portion of industry is still confused about the reforms and new rules. Working group members were concerned that the department wasn’t spending enough time talking to fishers about the proposed changes particularly about quota and reporting arrangements. Members suggested that the department should suggest the fishers wanting to know about the operational requirements of reporting and further explanation of how quota worked could contact their local Queensland Boating and Fisheries Patrol (QBFP) office for an appointment to speak to an officer or face to face meetings with Fisheries Queensland staff and “How to” instructional videos.

Members raised their concerns about industry’s understanding of the difference between quota units and how this translates to the number of kilograms that can be taken. Clarification was sought on the definition of when a fishing trip/operation begins and ends as well as the timeframes for reporting. The working group discussed the management and requirements of quota that is set aside for indigenous allocation. Industry members raised the requirement to continue to have flags on trot lines in the offshore component of the blue swimmer crab fishery given the introduction of vessel tracking. The need for progress in addressing the high risks to marine turtles identified in crab fishery ecological risk assessments, and the previous working group’s recommendation for restrictions on lightweight crab pots were also raised. Fisheries Queensland will explore the options for an engagement and education strategy and seek clarification regarding other issues raised.

Fisheries Queensland provided an update of the draft mud and blue swimmer crab harvest strategies. 13 draft harvest strategies, including those for mud and blue swimmer crab, were open for public consultation from 30 September 2020 to 31 January 2021. A total of 138 surveys, 16 brief comments and 30 emails were received across all fisheries. The working group members discussed the responses received noting the mixed responses received and the large number of comments questioning the evidence and rationale behind the changes, general objection to quota or sectoral split and species-specific issues. Members discussed the quota allocation process and noted the decision to base eligible catch history on financial years rather than calendar years was made as it benefitted more industry participants.

Members discussed the harvest strategy rules when one sector exceeds their sectorial split and instances where the TACC can increase or decrease. Members representing the commercial sector noted that all the decision rules were designed to facilitate a decrease in the TACC while the only opportunity to increase the TACC was subsequent to the conduct of the stock assessment.

  • East coast mud crab: 688,670 kg

  • Gulf of Carpentaria mud crab: 90,168kg

  • Blue swimmer crab: 242,982 kg

The members noted that the first quota season is 10 months, running from 1 September 2021 to 30 June 2022. Fisheries Queensland proposed to pro-rata the TACC for the east coast mud crab, Gulf of Carpentaria mud crab and blue swimmer crab for the 2021-22 season based on the averages of historical September to June catches for the previous five financial years. The pro-rata amounts proposed are:

The second year of the harvest strategies (2022-23) would commence with the full TACC. The minimum quota entitlement to be able to fish in the mud crab fishery will remain at 1.2 tonnes. Members advised Fisheries Queensland that some commercial fishers believe that the 1.2 tonnes is the minimum allocation provided to all eligible licence holders. Fisheries Queensland clarified for members that 1.2 tonnes is the minimum holding to be able to take mud crabs commercially, not the minimum quota allocation.

The GBRMPA member raised concerns about the 33% exploitable biomass level estimated in the recent blue swimmer crab stock assessment and questioned the TACC being set at a much higher level than the 129 tonne recommended biological catch that the stock assessment recommended to rebuild the stock. GBRMPA recommended the TACC should be set much lower than the 263 tonne TACC proposed to rebuild the stock to the 60% exploitable biomass target by 2027. Fisheries Queensland advised that the recommended 129 tonne harvest limit was substantially less than what is currently being caught and would result in significant changes for all sectors and therefore adopted a longer rebuild strategy with a higher TACC.  The proposed 350 tonne TAC is based on a slower rebuild in approximately 10 years, noting a new stock assessment would be available in three years to inform future rebuilding.

Fisheries Queensland provided a presentation on the methodology and outcomes from the BDO social and economic indicators report for commercial and charter fisheries. The working group noted the release of the BDO social and economic report for the crab fisheries with a dashboard accessible via the department’s website. Members discussed the available data and how it could be used to compare their individual operations with other industry participants. Caution should be exercised when comparing the social and economic benefits across different sectors. The ongoing collection of this data would also assist in identifying the changes pre and post reform. The ability to be able to determine the impacts of the reform agenda will assist the department in future reforms.  This project is currently ongoing and future results including recreational surveys will be presented at the next working group meeting.

The working group noted the WTO approvals issued under the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Act 1999 for Queensland mud and blue swimmer crab fisheries are in place until 27 May 2022 and are subject to mandatory conditions some of which have not been met. The working group discussed the importance of maintaining WTO approvals for the crab fisheries and the implications if approvals were revoked or not renewed. Part 13A of the WTO relates to the export approvals and Part 13 of the WTO relates to interactions with protected species in Commonwealth waters. Members provided initial advice to Fisheries Queensland in favour of maintaining Part 13 and 13A with conditions of the WTO with a commitment to address by-catch mitigation strategies.

The working group noted the recently completed and ongoing mud crab research. Currently, mud crab stock assessments are based on harvest data only. Other data sets such as size-frequency are required if more precise assessments are to be conducted.  Current research will assist in filling some of these gaps but will require the assistance from industry members via a permit.

Fisheries Queensland provided an update on compliance activities in the recreational and commercial crab sectors from the previous 12 months. Both mud and blue swimmer crab compliance rates were similar to other fisheries with approximately 90% compliance of the units inspected. The large number of unattended and abandoned pots still present in waterways continues to be an issue and remains a high priority for QBFP. The prohibition of light-weight pots and extension of escape vent requirement to the recreational sector will be discussed in future meetings. New legislation has passed surrounding black marketing of priority species. This includes the taking of excess fisheries product with the sale or intention of sale of the product.

Fisheries Queensland provided an update of legislative changes to the crab fisheries passed on 30 September 2020. Escape vent sizes and the placement on the bottom edge of the crab pots were discussed. The sizes and options of escape vents in regulation were based on research and to give industry some flexibility to choose an option that best suits their operation. Escape vents must be installed in the commercial crab apparatus used to take mud crabs by 1 September 2021. Review of escape vent requirements and issues will be discussed post implementation if required. Concerns were raised regarding mud crabs being retained from pots without escape vents while targeting blue swimmer crabs. Fisheries Queensland is in the progress of developing fact sheets for the crab fisheries and will be distributed to industry soon.

The working group noted the new reporting and quota requirements that commence on 1 September 2021 including the 1.2 tonne minimum quota entitlement requirement for mud crab. Members raised concerns about the inability to land at private landing locations due to the new legislative requirements. Fisheries Queensland has taken the concerns into consideration and will be seeking approval to amend legislation to allow landing at private property. The landing location will need to be registered, open and accessible for inspection by an inspector. If not open for inspection, the ability to land at that location will not be permitted. Locations can also include places that are accessible by water. Further clarification is being sought about what constitutes the start and end of a fishing operation and when reporting needs to be completed when the primary vessel is used as a holding facility while at sea.

Crabs will be required to be weighed on certified scales for the weight notice. Working group members asked if financial assistance could be made available to assist commercial operators purchase certified scales similar to arrangements put in place for the purchase of vessel tracking units. The weight differences between uncooked and cooked product was raised and whether there is a conversion factor for this when reporting the weight notice. Fisheries Queensland to also clarify if there is a need to keep product from different trips separated once reporting is complete. Some working group members expressed concerns about the complexity and duplication of the upcoming reporting requirements in the current form.

Fisheries Queensland provided an update of the commercial fishing app. The first iteration of the app is scheduled 1 September 2021 and will include reporting for both mud and blue swimmer crab fisheries. The app will cover the entire fishing trip including reporting notices and logbooks. Users will have the ability to check quota balances when in data range as well as some functions that will have offline capabilities. Industry members suggested face to face workshops with videos would be most beneficial to educate industry on how to use the app. “How to” videos uploaded to FishNet would also be helpful.

The next crab working group meeting is scheduled for October 2021 with discussions to include:

  • An update on research progress and preliminary findings

  • An update on new social and economic data including recreational survey results

  • An update on the WTO status

  • Development of by-catch mitigation strategies

  • Review of escape vent requirements

  • Progressing the removal of light weight crab pots

  • An update of latent effort, number of C1 symbols in use and quota movements post quota allocation

  • Clarification on reporting requirements and other actions from this meeting.

Fisheries Queensland (Chair – Mark Doohan, Kimberly Foster, Tony Ham, Nancy Trieu, Rob McDonald), commercial fishing (Keith Harris, Anne Tooker, Ben Day, Peter Jackson, Nicholas Burr, Matthew Vickers), recreational fishing (David Bateman, George Bennetts, Wayne Bonham), Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (James Aumend), Animal Science Queensland (Julie Robins).

Apologies (Kord Luckus).